Friday, February 24, 2012

Irish Coffee Ice Cream

On the evening of the first Saturday of every month, you can often find Jay and myself aboard a 100+-year-old ship at the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco bellowing out melodies among hundreds of other voices. We are not part of some freakish cult (at least, not in so many words). We merely participate in a 30-year-old San Francisco tradition: the Hyde Street Chantey Sing.

For the past thirty years, singers of all ages have been gathering aboard the Balclutha to belt out working songs of the sea. Chanteys are fairly simple tunes that are largely call-and-response and easy to catch on to. Once you've been to a couple of chantey sings, you'll be familiar with most of the songs commonly sung. The acoustics on the ship are excellent, the singing is top-notch, the vibe is fun and friendly, and after 11 p.m., the session opens up to include ballads and bawdy songs, which are definitely worth sticking around for.

But the best thing about the chantey sing, in my opinion, is scoring Irish coffees, to-go, from the Buena Vista to warm you from the chilly, San Francisco bay air.

Leave the warm, covered deck of the Balclutha and walk to the end of the pier, past the creaking ships and slapping waves. Cross the street and shove your way into the ever-crowded Buena Vista, where Irish coffees were tested, perfected, and popularized 60 years ago on November 10th, 1952. Belly up to the bar, order an Irish coffee to go, and the bartender will present you with a paper cup of sweet coffee topped with softly whipped cream, and a tiny, though potent, shot-sized bottle of whiskey which you get to add yourself. Carry one (or two) back to the ship, and discreet, caffeinated sipping is yours for the evening (or until you run out and have to dash back to the Buena Vista).

After several chantey sings (and perhaps several Irish coffees), I reckoned that the winning combination of coffee, cream and Irish whiskey would make a stellar frozen dessert, and began working them into an ice cream. But I didn't realize that the ice cream would require such a delicate balance of ingredients to showcase the coffee and boozy flavors and still set into a scoopable ice cream.

I began by consulting my ice cream bible for coffee- and booze-to-custard ratios and adapted them to my favorite ice cream formula. But as I churned up the ice cream, which wasn't as boozy as I would have liked it, I realized that I should have decreased the amount of fat in the custard to both accommodate more alcohol and to mute the flavor of the coffee less. Fat, alcohol and sugar all prevent ice cream from freezing. Adding more of any to your ice cream will result in a more pliable product, but too much and your ice cream will never solidify beyond the milkshake stage. Fat and dairy also have the effect of softening flavors, which make it a perfect match for potent ingredients like coffee and chocolate, but too much prevents the flavors from shining through.

So for trial 2, I took down the fat content by subbing in whole milk for the half and half, and added more whiskey. But this batch tasted icy and thin, with the coffee flavor too harsh from the leaner base.

For batch 3, I split the difference, still using some whole milk but adding more cream. This ice cream took 5 tablespoons of whiskey but still firmed up to a pliantly scoopable texture. As the ice cream churned, I held the whiskey bottle and asked Jay if I should add more. 'It's still not boozy enough,' I lamented. Jay laid a hand on my arm. 'The problem is, it will never be boozy enough. But! You can always pour more whiskey over your bowl of ice cream.' He's so smart.

I'm glad I listened to him, because the ice cream was difficult enough to photograph. Straight from the freezer it is perfectly creamy, but scoops begin to melt within minutes and hence make challenging subjects.

Coffee ice cream is a favorite of mine, and this version rivals the best with its creamy texture, earthy coffee flavor, and boozy bonus. I used a dark-roasted swiss water decaf, made by the folks at Coast Roast in Tomales, CA, so I can eat as much as I want for dessert without getting the jitters.

This ice cream makes a heavenly treat by itself, but I can think of a dozen desserts it would enhance. For starters:
And save your egg whites to bake into a luscious cake, such as buckwheat-hazelnut, chocolate pistachio or chocolate hazelnut.

If you lack an ice cream maker, don't fret: try David Lebovitz' method for making ice cream without one. This recipe is particularly amenable to the hand-stirring method what with all that booze that prevents it from freezing solid.

Share this ice cream with friends, and you may unwittingly start a cult of your own.

We all scream for:
Cocoa Nib Ice Cream
Chocolate Mint Chip Ice Cream
Pumpkin Ice Cream

One year ago:
(Gluten-free!) Apple Crisple
Two years ago:
Candy Cap Sables

Irish Coffee Ice Cream

Give yourself 1-2 days to complete this ice cream, but know that the time is mostly inactive: 1 hour to steep the cream with the coffee beans, 4 hours to chill the ice cream base, and several hours to overnight to firm the churned ice cream in the freezer. If you lack an ice cream maker, check out David Lebovitz's post on making ice cream without one. And if you lack a vanilla bean, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract along with the whiskey.

Good coffee ice cream starts with good coffee; I used a dark-roasted swiss water decaf (from Coast Roast in Tomales, California) so that I can eat this for dessert and not get the jitters. For the whiskey, I use Jameson, which is my current favorite drinking whiskey, but use what you like - bourbon or dark rum would probably be tasty substitutes (though the ice cream will no longer be 'Irish'). The amount of whiskey here creates an ice cream with a soft set that (unfortunately) doesn't taste strongly of booze; but don't be tempted to add more, or your ice cream may not set at all and end up like a creamy slushy. If you want more whiskey flavor (and really, who doesn't?) splash it over individual scoops; or float a scoop in a mug of real Irish coffee.

Makes about 1 quart

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole coffee beans
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1 cup whole milk, plus a few extra tablespoons for topping off the cream (see directions, below)
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
pinch salt

4-5 tablespoons whiskey

Combine the cream, coffee beans and vanilla pod and scrapings in a medium saucepan. Warm over a medium flame, shuffling the pan occasionally, until the cream is steaming and bubbles form around the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for 1 hour, shuffling the pan a few times during the hour to evenly saturate the beans.

Strain the cream into a 2 or 4-cup capacity measuring cup. Slowly pour enough whole milk over the beans to bring the mixture back to 1 1/2 cups, rinsing the beans with the milk. Press on the beans to extract any extra liquid, then discard the beans. Chill the infused cream while you make the custard. (The cream can be infused ahead of time, covered, and chilled for up to several days.)

In the now empty saucepan, warm the remaining 1 cup of milk until it is steaming and small bubbles form around the edges. Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and salt in a medium bowl to combine and anchor the bowl on a damp towel. Slowly drizzle the hot milk into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly, then return the mixture to the saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, until the mixture starts to 'stick' (form a film on) the bottom of the pan, and/or registers 170º on an instant read thermometer. (This will only take a minute or two.) Immediately strain the custard into the coffee-infused cream. Optionally chill the ice cream base over an ice bath.

Now for the important bit: stir in that whiskey!

Cover and chill the base in the fridge for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, or up to 3 days (I like to put it in a 1-quart, wide-mouth mason jar.)

Place the ice cream base in the freezer for half an hour to get it really cold, stirring (or shaking, if in a mason jar) it every 10 minutes. (I also like to place the vessel in which I will be storing the ice cream in the freezer to get it cold so the churned ice cream doesn't melt on contact.) Spin the ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. The ice cream will still be fairly soft when it is done churning, about the consistency of a thick-ish milk shake, but it will firm up in the freezer.

Glop the ice cream into a large jar or loaf pan, cover, and freeze for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight. The ice cream will still be pliant, but should be firm enough to scoop.

The ice cream is best within the first few days of churning when ice crystals are at a minimum, but it will keep, covered and with a piece of parchment paper pressed to its surface, for a month or two.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Blood Orange Upside-Down Cake

Burgundy-fleshed blood oranges taste like orange mixed with pomegranate and the juice of dark, sweet cherries – fruity, mysterious, tangy, with a hint of bitterness. Their vibrant color makes them a welcome addition during the dark days of winter. (Though to be fair, the plants around here seem quite confused by California's odd weather and all manner of berries, even raspberries and blueberries, are currently fruiting.)

Since overcoming my aversion to blood oranges several years ago, I now look forward to their arrival each winter, and keep an eye out for new ways to use them.

So when I saw a recipe in Jamie magazine for a ginger-clementine upside-down cake, I reckoned that the same cake made with blood oranges would taste – and look – especially vibrant.

The original recipe was not only written in grams, but also vegan, so I remedied both problems straight away: I swapped out the margarine for butter and the soy milk for crème fraîche, and added a couple of eggs. The recipe also called for orange marmalade, which I did not want to buy (or have time to make), so instead I added the zest of a couple of satsumas from our box. Blood orange zest would have been the natural choice and you can certainly zest an orange or two before cutting off the peel, but I like the way the bright, sunny flavor of tangerines helps lighten the mood of the brooding blood oranges. Finally, I traded the powdered ginger for fresh.

This cake is a straightforward one to put together: cut the peel and pith off of the oranges and slice them into rounds, lay them atop butter and brown sugar, make a buttery cake batter and spread it on top, bake until done.

The cake slips out of the pan with a 'plop,' ruby juices running down the sides, oranges glistening like rubies atop a dense, moist cake. Take a bite, and the flavors of sunshine flood your mouth, the ginger and vanilla creating a warm backdrop for vibrant citrus. A dollop of crème fraîche helps to round out the complex flavors of the blood orange; though you could make a stunning presentation by pooling vanilla crème anglaise around the cake and swirling in a drizzle of blood orange reduction.

If you're looking for still more blood orange inspiration, here are a few more ideas:
  • Add blood orange juice to a glass of Prosecco for a colorful mimosa, or use it to mix up a margarita
  • Whip up a blood orange curd and bake it into a rosy, buttery tart, or use it to fill lemon poundcakelets topped with mascarpone cream
  • Stir up a blood orange olive oil cake
  • Supremes add a bright pop to any crepe or pancake; or arrange the ruby slivers around a panna cotta
  • Blood orange granita or sorbet, with or without the addition of fresh ginger, goes well with meyer lemon buttermilk ice cream and sbrisolona
  • A classmate in pastry school once made a blood orange sabayon and paired it with gingerbread bread pudding, something I have been meaning to try
  • Toss segments into a salad – beets, avocado, fennel, pomegranate pistils, crumbly cheeses, arugula, pine nuts and hazelnuts are all good contenders
  • Blood orange juice adds a rosy hue to any rhubarb recipe; it also pairs well with strawberries
  • Bake slices into a stunning galette
  • Make a blood orange compote (my favorite recipe comes from Chez Panisse Desserts) and serve with honey yogurt ice cream or drizzle a blood orange reduction around chocolate bouchons cakes and gild the lily with black pepper-vanilla ice cream

What do you like to do with blood oranges?

Turn your world upside-down:
Banana Rum Cakelets
Cranberry-Pear Gingerbread
Ginger Pineapple, with Coconut Lemongrass Ice Cream

One year ago:
Chocolate Bouchons Cakes, Black Pepper Ice Cream, Blood Orange Reduction
Two years ago:
Plum Jam and Cardamom Crumble Squares

Blood Orange Upside-Down Cake

Inspired by the vegan Ginger-Clementine Upside-Down Cake in issue 24 of Jamie magazine

I used the zest of 2 small satsuma mandarins in this cake; if you prefer to use blood orange zest, zest 1-2 blood oranges before cutting off the peels to make the topping. You can make your own crème fraîche by stirring 1 tablespoon buttermilk into 1 cup of heavy cream and letting it sit in a warm spot for 24 hours; alternately, you can substitute the same amount of whole milk in the recipe and increase the flour to 1 3/4 cups – these two variations taste almost identical.

The cake benefits from a creamy accoutrement; serve slices with additional crème fraîche, or decorate a pool of crème anglaise with drips of blood orange reduction. All ounce measurements are by weight.

Makes one 9" cake, 8-10 servings

The topping:
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, in a few pieces
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) soft light-brown sugar
1 1/2 pounds blood oranges (about 5 medium)

The cake:
4 ounces (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated zest from 1-2 blood oranges or tangerines.
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger root (from 3/4 ounce ginger, peeled)

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 ounces) crème fraîche
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) blood orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the topping:
Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 350º.

As the oven preheats, place the butter in a 9" round cake pan and put it in the oven to melt. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the butter and return the pan to the oven for about 5 minutes until the sugar is moistened and distributed evenly over the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, use a sharp paring knife to slice the top and bottom from the blood oranges. Place a cut-side down, and, following the curve of the orange, cut away the peel and white pith. Cut the orange cross-wise into 3/8" rounds. Repeat with the remaining oranges. Reserve any juices to use in the cake (I like to squeeze the butts and peels to get every last bit of juice).

Lay the orange rounds over the buttery sugar in the pan in a single layer using the fattest pieces and starting with the outer ring, and filling in the center with the smaller pieces. Set aside while you make the cake batter.

Make the cake batter:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, zest and ginger until fluffy and lightened in color, about 5 minutes on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl.

In a measuring cup, stir together the crème fraîche, blood orange juice and vanilla extract.

With the mixer on low, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, let stir to incorporate, then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add half of the crème fraîche mixture, let incorporate, then scrape. Repeat, adding another 1/3 of the dries, half of the crème fraîche, and the rest of the dries. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold the batter with a rubber spatula to make sure the batter is completely homogeneous.

Dollop the batter over the orange slices, which may have released some juices and that's a-ok, and spread it evenly.

Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-45 minutes. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes. (If the cake cools too much, the orange goo may stick the pan; no worries, just return the cake to a hot oven for 5 minutes or so to re-melt it.)

Loosen the edges of the cake with a thin knife or offset spatula, invert a large plate over the top of the cake. Wearing oven mitts, grasp the cake and plate together and bravely flip them both over. Rap the plate on the counter a few times to dislodge, then remove the cake pan. Let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour – the cake is still baking from residual heat, so try to resist cutting into it too soon.

For the cleanest slices, use a serrated bread knife to gently saw through the orange slices, which can be a bit messy. Serve slices with extra crème fraîche, or crème anglaise (see headnote).

The cake is best served shortly after cooling, but will keep for up to 3 days at room temperature.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Chocolate Pistachio Rugelach

After my parents' divorce when I was 6, my mom dated an Israeli man. I always looked forward to our stays at his apartment in West LA because I got to watch all the TV I wanted in the morning while eating the treats he would buy us from a nearby bakery. Marzipan-oozing bear claws, rich rugelach, and flaky chocolate danishes were undeniably better breakfast options than the usual shredded wheat with low-fat milk, and not even his BO-filled hugs could dampen my anticipation of these blissful, sugar-high mornings.

My relationship with chocolate rugelach turned out to be longer-lasting than my mom's with her beau, however; she decided that, among other deal-breakers, he didn't take adequate care of his health. ('He eats COOKIES for BREAKFAST!' I remember her exclaiming to me, as though this were on par with molesting small children or a predilection for wearing ladies' underthings.) And while my addiction to television eventually dwindled, my love of sweet things – clearly – did not.

When I found a recipe for rugelach many years later in Molly Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest, I immediately gave them a go. These rugelach called for a schmear of jam and a flurry of chopped nuts and raisins. They were pretty awesome, and I was once again hooked.

But then I found another recipe, from Cook's Illustrated, and, with all due respect to Ms. Katzen, this one took the cookie. The barely-sweetened dough held copious amounts of butter and cream cheese, with a touch of sour cream to make the dough extra-flaky (the acids in the sour cream go to work on the flour's glutens, keeping the dough tender and ousting toughness). But best of all was the chocolate variation, in which one could forgo the jam altogether for a layer of mini chocolate chips, nuts, and cinnamon sugar.

Then came Alice Medrich's rugelach recipe in her latest tome on cookies, in which she gives permission to put any darn thing you want in your rugelach, including cocoa nibs, bittersweet chocolate, or even forgoing these complications and sprinkling the dough simply with cardamom sugar for something akin to gussied-up palmiers.

Taking a cue from Ms. Medrich's refined simplicity, I mixed up a batch of Cook's dough and sprinkled it with plain white sugar, a finely chopped bar of Scharffenberger chocolate, and some verdant pistachios. I've found that rolling the rugelach crescent-style results in a loss of more filling, so I make these in the roulade style, rolled up like cinnamon buns and sliced crosswise into pretty little spirals. Cook's calls for glazing the tops with a mixture of egg yolks and milk, but I kept it simple and left the tops plain, and was glad I did; the cookies were perfectly sweet without the extra sugar, and the tops prettily browned.

These cookie-sized pastries are sweet enough to enjoy for dessert or a tea-time snack, but subtle enough so that you could even eat them for breakfast.

At least, I wouldn't dump you for it.

Chocolate+nuts= Chocolate Pistachio Torte
Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Bars

(Gluten-Free) Flourless Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

One year ago:
Sticky Date Pudding
Two years ago:
Pumpkin Tart
Apple Huckleberry Pie

Chocolate Pistachio Rugelach

Adapted from Baking Illustrated and Alice Medrich

This classic dough can handle many variations: smear a slick of smooth jam over the dough, swap out any nut for the pistachios, trade the chocolate for dried currants, and add cinnamon or cardamom to the sugar. As always, be sure to use a good chocolate that you like the flavor of on its own; I used Scharffenberger's bittersweet chocolate which has a cacao mass of 70%. If I were to use a sweeter chocolate, I would decrease the sugar. But that's just me.

You have several do-ahead options for rugelach: freeze the dough for up to 1 month, or assemble and fill the rugelach and freeze them, unbaked, for up to 1 month, then bake them straight from the freezer.

Makes about 40 2-bite-sized cookies

The dough:
2 1/4 cups (11 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks/1 cup) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4" chunks
8 ounces (1 cup) cold cream cheese, cut into 1/2" chunks
2 tablespoons sour cream

The Filling:
1/2 cup sugar (I use organic turbinado)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups finely chopped pistachios
1 1/3 cups finely chopped bittersweet chocolate (see headnote)

Make the dough:
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Scatter the butter pieces, cream cheese, and sour cream over the top, and pulse about sixteen times until the dough just clumps together - it will look like chunky cottage cheese. (You can also do this in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or, probably, by hand the way you would make pie dough.) Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into 4 equal portions. Press each portion into an 8x4" rectangle, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days (or place the dough in a freezer bag and freeze for up to 1 month; defrost in the fridge overnight before using).

While the dough chills, prepare the filling ingredients:
Stir the sugar and salt together in a small bowl. Have the chopped chocolate and nuts standing by in small bowls.

Assemble and bake the cookies:
Remove a dough rectangle from the fridge and place it on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a 12x8" rectangle with a long side facing you - it will be about 1/8" thick. Trim the edges clean. Leaving a 1" boarder on the top edge, sprinkle the dough evenly with 2 tablespoons of the seasoned sugar. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the chocolate over the sugar, then 1/3 cup of the chopped nuts. Use your hands to gently but firmly press the filling into the dough. Starting from the bottom edge, roll the dough up into a tight cylinder with the seam on the bottom. Cut the cylinder into 3/4-1" lengths. Place the cut rugelach seam-side-down on a sheet pan and place the pan in the freezer.

Repeat with the remaining rectangles of dough, and freeze all the rugelach until firm, at least 20 minutes.

While the rugelach freeze, position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 375º. Place the frozen rugelach 2 inches apart on sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Bake the rugelach until golden on top, rotating front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking, about 20 minutes.

Immediately remove the rugelach to cooling racks so that they don't form a foot of sugary goo around their bases and let cool completely.

Rugelach keep well for up to 5 days at room temperature in an air-tight container.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

(Gluten-Free!) Buckwheat Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake, Cider Glazed Apples

I make it no secret that I prefer a simple tea cake (and really just about any other type of confection) to the layered, iced, fondanted extravaganzas to which some people aspire. I may or may not have been traumatized six years ago when a caterer friend-of-a-friend considered hiring me to make a gluten-free wedding cake. I told her that I had yet to make a wedding cake at all, but that I was well-versed in the art of gluten-free baking, and that I could probably put something decent together.

She instructed me to make a sample tiered cake, ice it, decorate it, photograph it, and put it on a website (other things that I told her I didn't know how to do) so that she could show her client that I was competent. 'It will totally be worth your while,' she insisted, tempting me with a future full of cake-based fortune and fame.

I believed her (and was also psyched to have an excuse to bake something) so I purchased ingredients, cake pans, cardboard cake rounds, piping bags and tips, offset spatulas, and fresh flowers, and set to work.

Always concerned with flavor, I asked my friend Blanche what type of cake I should bake and she suggested lemon poppyseed. I whipped up a swiss meringue buttercream, flavored it with vanilla, and spent what felt like hours crumb coating, shellacking and smoothing. My piping skills were not the best, and neither was my food photography, but I was proud of my work. Jay created a simple website for me and I emailed the caterer the link.

The next day, I got a call. 'THE CAKE HAS TO LOOK PROFESSIONAL!' the caterer, who had previously seemed like a nice, if somewhat unstable, person, screeched into the phone before slamming it down. I never heard from her again, but the erstwhile cake was a huge hit at Jay's office, and the website would become my first quasi-blog in which Jay would post a photo and description of the treat du jour to let his co-workers know what was available in the office kitchenette.

So it's no wonder that I go for cakes that look plain on the outside, but are moist and flavorful enough to stand on their own without being masked by frilly sugar paste and flowers. The flavors of this cake – butter browned with vanilla bean, toasted hazelnuts, earthy buckwheat – belie its humble appearance with a complexity akin to a fine wine or chocolate..

..or perhaps a hand-made apple cider aged in whiskey barrels.

The idea for this cake came to me as a way to make use of some very special apple cider that our friends Bill and Chava carried to California all the way from Wales. Bill and Chava ferment their cider from home-grown cider apples using old-school methods. Since cider apples are lower in sugar and higher in tannins (the chemical that causes apples to turn brown when cut) the cider turns a shade of deep amber that commercial cider-makers can only achieve by adding coloring.

Welsh Mountain Cider is not a girly drink by any means. Unlike the cold, sweet, fizzy ciders that ladies who dislike beer order in bars when the wine selection is sufficiently dubious, Welsh Mountain Cider is still, and dry enough to enjoy with dinner. It has a funky edge reminiscent of wild-fermented or Lambic ales, and its stint in whiskey barrels gives it a distinctly smoky finish. If you ever travel to Wales, you must stop by the farm and pick up a case. I'm crossing my fingers that they'll start exporting to a local purveyor of unique libations, such as Monk's Kettle, because we are down to our last pint. 

So I baked up this cake, and served it with wedges of pink lady apples caramelized in Welsh Mountain Cider and finished with rosemary and tangy crème fraîche.

The cake recipe hinges on financier, the ingenious French (what else?) confection comprised of ground nuts folded into sugar, browned butter, egg whites and flour. The golden cakes originated near the financial district of Paris where they were baked into small molds shaped like gold bricks and named after the 'financers' who would enjoy the cakes for an afternoon pick-me-up. I've been enamored with financiers (the cakes, not the French money men) not only for their light-dense texture, deep flavor, and versatility, but also for their ability to turn egg whites (which custard devotees like myself often have in abundance) into something stunningly delicious (unlike meringues). This magical cake is easy to make – just whisk all the ingredients together – and it contains no leavening. No obscure, gluten-free substitutions are necessary, save for buckwheat flour, which you can find in most grocery stores. Un-whipped egg whites do all the work of sticking the ingredients together and baking up into a sturdy yet tender confection.

'It tastes like chocolate,' Jay mused, taking a bite of pillowy-warm cake. Indeed, the earthy flavors of vanilla, caramelized milk solids, toasted nuts and buckwheat echoed the full spectrum of taste that comes from cacao. This cake would be equally delightful served with a dark chocolate sauce (an excellent one comes from David Lebovitz – I've been serving it on various desserts at my work for the past three years, and we just started making a cocktail with it, too) in place of the caramelized apples.

If you lack Welsh Mountain Cider (and chances are, you do), use a splash of hard cider, whiskey or calvados in its place. And if you doubt that a financier cake is 'professional-looking' enough for a special occasion, Suzanne Goin of Lucques fame writes in her book that she had a similar one at her wedding, decorated simply with sauteed pears and chocolate sauce.

So there.

Nuts for cake:
Berry-Fig Financiers
(Gluten-Free) Meyer Lemon Almond Cake
(Gluten-Free) Chocolate Hazelnut Financier Cake

One year ago:
Pear, Blue Cheese and Hazelnut Tart
Two years ago:
Pumpkin Challah
Oven Roasted Potatoes and Parsnips

(Gluten-Free) Buckwheat Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake, with Cider Glazed Apples

Double the recipe to make a 9 or 10" round cake, or bake the cake in smaller buttered and floured molds, or in mini muffin tins lined with muffin cups. Leftover cake is excellent toasted and smeared with jam (cherry!) or chocolate-hazelnut spread for a sweet breakfast or afternoon snack, tea or coffee optional but highly recommended.

For a variation, bake the fruit (glazed apples, sauteed pears, fresh berries or cherries) right into the cake - you will want to bake the batter first, fruit-free, for about 10-15 minutes, then add the fruit, so that it doesn't sink to the bottom. If you need a way to use up your egg yolks, try one of my many fun ice cream recipes, such as Cacao Nib, Lemon Verbena or Horchata.

Makes one 6" round cake, or 6 dainty servings

The cake:
4 ounces (1 stick/8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus a bit of softened butter for greasing the pan
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1/2 cup whole, raw hazelnuts

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 3/4 ounces) buckwheat flour
1/2 cup (2 ounces) powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 cup egg whites (from 3-4 large eggs)
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar

The apples:
2 large baking apples, such as pink ladies or fujis
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons hard apple cider (or whiskey)
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary

lightly sweetened whipped cream and/or creme fraiche, for serving

Bake the cake:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º (or 375º for small cakes). Grease a 6" round cake pan with 2" high sides with softened butter, line with a round of parchment paper, and grease the parchment (or dust the greased pan with a bit of buckwheat flour and tap out the excess).

Combine the butter and vanilla bean pod and scrapings in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until the butter browns and smells nutty, 5 - 10 minutes. The butter will foam up, and the milk solids on the bottom of the pan should be a rich brown color, not black. The rest of the butter will remain golden-amber. Watch it carefully, as it can go from brown to burnt in little time. Remove from the heat and let cool sightly.

Meanwhile, spread the hazelnuts on a small, rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until slightly darkened, 10-12 minutes. Let cool enough to handle, then rub between your hands to flake off as much of the papery skins as will easily come off. Let the nuts cool completely.

Finely grind the toasted, rubbed, and cooled hazelnuts with the flour, powdered sugar and salt in a food processor (or a coffee grinder in batches) until floury in consistency.

In a heatproof metal bowl, combine the egg whites and granulated sugar. Place the bowl over a low flame (or a pot of simmering water) and whisk until the whites are warm to the touch and the sugars are dissolved. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the nut mixture. Place the bowl on a damp towel to secure, and gradually whisk in the warm butter, 1/4 cup at a time, so that the mixture emulsifies. You will have a fairly loose batter, brownish-grey from the hazels and buckwheat. (The batter can be baked directly, or stored in the fridge for several days.)

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake until puffed and golden, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes for a 6" cake, and less time for smaller cakes.

While the cake bakes, prepare the apples:
Peel the apples (I like to use a t-shaped vegetable peeler) and cut them off the core, then into 1/2" wedges. Melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a wide, heavy-bottomed skillet over a medium-high flame. Add the sugar, swirling to combine, then the apples. Let the apples sit for a minute or two to sear, then toss them. Repeat the searing and tossing for 10 minutes or so, until the apples are very soft and very golden (watch them more closely toward the end as they will caramelize more rapidly). Remove from the heat and pour over the cider or whiskey, stirring and scraping any browned bits, then stir in the rosemary. (The apples can be made ahead and stored in the fridge - re-caramelize in a pan before serving.)

Let the cake cool 10 minutes, then invert it onto a plate and peel off the parchment. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with a mound of glazed apples and a scoop of softly whipped cream.

The cake keeps well for up to 4 days, at room temperature, in an air-tight container.